WASHINGTON Dec 4 The Pentagon has approved a
plan that will allow the U.S. Air Force to buy up to 36 rocket
launches for government satellites from a joint venture of
Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, while opening
up to 14 launches to competition from other companies, the Air
Force said on Tuesday.
The Pentagon has been moving aggressively to introduce more
competition to defense procurement to help lower costs. Air
Force officials have been particularly keen to introduce
competition to the area of rocket launches -- and adopt other
reforms -- given sharp increases in the cost of launches.
Under the new plan, the Air Force can buy as many as 14
launches over the next five years from possible bidders such as
Space Exploration Technologies Corp, or SpaceX, and Orbital
The service may also buy as many as 36 launches from United
Launch Alliance, the Lockheed-Boeing venture, with an option to
purchase the other 14 launches if the competitors haven't been
certified to launch military and spy satellites that can cost up
to $1 billion each.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, signed a
memorandum approving the revamped acquisition approach on Nov.
27, an Air Force spokesman said.
United Launch Alliance has been the sole supplier of medium-
and heavy-lift rockets for military and spy satellites under the
Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program since Boeing
and Lockheed merged their rocket launch operations in 2005.
The program is estimated to cost $70 billion through 2030.
United Launch Alliance officials said the new approach would
expand block-buying and help stabilize the industrial base and
save money by allowing it to sign larger and longer-term
contracts with its suppliers.
Without such action, Air Force officials say, the cost of
one Atlas V rocket was expected to spike by 40 percent to over
$250 million from around $180 million now.
The U.S. Air Force said on Monday it had selected SpaceX,
Orbital Sciences and Lockheed to launch smaller military
satellites on multiple missions through 2017 under a contract
valued at up to $900 million.